How does one woman disappear without a trace? Not just any woman. We’re talking about a high-profile, very wealthy woman with a reputation for enjoying the extravagancies of life. Someone who, until the day she disappeared, was on a world stadium tour promoting her billion-euro empire. Her birthday party was held at London’s V&A Museum and Tom Jones performed. She was well known in her industry, well respected by her peers and adored by followers the world over. Even if you don’t recognise the name Dr Ruja Ignatova, you’ll be fascinated and amazed by her wild story so far.
Dr Ruja is the face and founder of OneCoin, a cryptocurrency which promised investors that they were buying into the money of the future. It launched in 2014 and by 2017 had been joined by more than 3 million people but then three years ago, Dr Ruja disappeared. She stopped turning up to the huge events and arena-size conferences where she would spread the word of her supposedly revolutionary new financial system. Though OneCoin still exists today, Dr Ruja hasn’t been seen or heard from since 2017.
There’s a big scandal at the heart of this wild goose chase but first, some context. OneCoin is advertised as a digital currency and was promoted as the next Bitcoin (one of the biggest and best known cryptocurrencies out there). It promised a new financial model that bypassed traditional banks and governments and would make early investors very rich because of incredibly low exchange rates. OneCoin reportedly raised £4 billion in investment around the world but prosecutors in America are arguing that it is in fact a pyramid scheme disguised as a cryptocurrency. It turns out lots of people who bought into the scheme are slowly realising that OneCoin isn’t what they thought it would be.
Led by host Jamie Bartlett with producer Georgia Catt, The Missing Cryptoqueen takes us through the organisation’s incredible back story. For the last year, the team behind the podcast have been trying to track down OneCoin’s missing leader and get to the bottom of why she vanished. The journey is messy, tense and near-unbelievable.
We hear from one of the world’s highest earning multi-level marketers who was brought on board in OneCoin’s early days to help sell the currency and lead the organisation's swift financial growth. There’s the evasive man who organised the Miss OneLife beauty pageant in Bucharest in April 2019 – a confusing piece of the OneCoin puzzle that gives an idea of the nature and the type of big money circulating the scheme. We also hear from a number of ex-employees and people who were almost recruited to the company but were stopped by the conviction that this 'currency' they were selling wasn’t actually legit.
Of all the wild revelations that come up in the podcast, though, the most heartbreaking is from 49-year-old Jen McAdam from Glasgow. Along with an estimated 70,000 other people in the UK, Jen bought packages from OneCoin but has been unable to trade or cash in her shares. She tells Jamie she invested about €10,000 herself and encouraged friends and family to invest a total of roughly €250,000 in OneCoin packages. She's now in more financial trouble than ever and is overwhelmed by the guilt of bringing her loved ones into a scheme which she is now convinced is a very successful scam.
"We thought we had changed our lives. We thought we had changed our family lives," Jen tells Jamie of her initial excitement after watching a OneCoin webinar. She's now part of a victims' network that stretches across the world and connects people like herself, who invested their life savings into the currency and are now stuck and unable to do anything about getting their money back.
The podcast has put their allegations to OneCoin, which insists that it is not a scam at all. "OneCoin verifiably fulfils all criteria of the definition of a cryptocurrency," has been the organisation's response throughout. But as The Missing Cryptoqueen's investigation into OneCoin and its missing founder deepens, it all gets increasingly shady.
In March of last year, Dr Ruja was charged with wire fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy but still, no one knows where she is. The Missing Cryptoqueen podcast has some hunches where she might be, though. Over nine episodes (plus one surprise interlude episode recorded from an airport) you'll hear as clues are put together in real time to track down the now elusive woman behind the billion-dollar company that ordinary people are claiming isn't what they thought it was. It's a gripping journey that seems almost unreal. But it is real. And finding the woman who's been MIA for the last two years does seem plausible with the help of crucial sources who pop up along the way. Whether Dr Ruja materialises by the end of episode eight, we'll all have to wait and see. Just know it'll be one hell of a journey to get there.